Craig Unger, author of Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power and contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
Republican Rep. Todd Akin has refused to drop out of Missouri’s Senate race, defying calls from leaders of his own party who say he could hurt Republican chances this November. Akin sparked a national controversy over the weekend after he told an interviewer that women are somehow capable of blocking pregnancy during what he called a "legitimate rape," a comment he later apologized over. Republicans, from presidential candidate Mitt Romney to Karl Rove to Senate leaders, urged Akin to withdraw before a Tuesday deadline for Missouri candidates. But Akin has pressed ahead with his campaign, tweeting to supporters: "Donations are pouring in. Thank you for standing up against the liberal elite." We speak to Craig Unger, contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of the new book, "Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power." Unger says that Rove’s super PAC "had put in more than $5 million into the Akin campaign, which was twice as much as the Akin campaign itself had put in. So he was responsible for Akin’s lead over [Claire] McCaskill more than anyone." However, on the Akin controversy, Unger says, "This is [Rove’s] nightmare. And he was doing everything he could to pull the plug immediately. ... This is not the conversation [the Republicans] want to have." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: As the 2012 presidential election heats up and the Republican National Convention is set to take place next week in Tampa, Florida, we look at the man many consider the de facto leader of the Republican Party: Karl Rove. Rove is the political strategist who masterminded the rise of George W. Bush from governor of Texas to the presidency. He advised Bush during two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some claim he helped seize the 2004 election for Bush. And he was at the center of two of the biggest scandals of the Bush administration: the Valerie Plame Wilson affair and the U.S. attorneys scandal.
While Karl Rove was almost indicted for the Plame affair, he has reinvented himself to become the most powerful political operative in America. Heading up the American Crossroads super PAC and the affiliated nonprofit, Crossroads GPS, Rove has built up a war chest that has given Mitt Romney a significant cash advantage in the fundraising race with President Obama. Rove’s power was on display Monday when he threatened to pull $5 million in funding from his super PAC, American Crossroads, for ads for Congressman Todd Akin’s race for Senate in Missouri, because of his comments about, quote, "legitimate rape."
KARL ROVE: If he remains on the ballot, you’re right, Crossroads GPS will—and Crossroads will not spend any money in the race. After those damaging statements, I mean, to try and differentiate between what’s a legitimate rape and an illegitimate rape and believing somehow that a woman’s body would reject a pregnancy if it was an illegitimate rape, whatever that is, these were reprehensible and deplorable comments, and there’s no way he can recover, in my opinion. So, our group decided, if he remains a nominee, there’s no reason to throw good money after bad by trying to win this seat.
AMY GOODMAN: In addition to raising billions of dollars for Republicans, Karl Rove is a commentator for Fox News and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
Well, Rove’s work to restore Republican control of Washington is examined in Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power, a new book by investigative journalist Craig Unger. He writes Rove’s ambitions are not simply about winning elections, they represent, quote, "a far more grandiose vision—the forging of a historic re-alignment of America’s political landscape, the transformation of America into effectively a one-party state." Craig Unger is also contributing editor at Vanity Fair, author of the New York Times bestselling book, House of Bush, House of Saud, as well as The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America’s Future.
Craig Unger, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.
CRAIG UNGER: Thanks for having me back, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s start with Congressman Akin, who has refused to step down from the race against Claire McCaskill in Missouri, despite the major powers in the Republican Party threatening him, saying he should pull back, from Mitt Romney to—well, Karl Rove saying he would withdraw how much money? And does this mean Karl Rove doesn’t have the amount of power you’ve been writing about in this book?
CRAIG UNGER: Well, I think he—I mean, I think it means that Todd Akin is one stubborn, stubborn guy. But here you see the schism over which Rove is presiding, and he is very much the party boss. He had put in—or, rather, his super PAC had put in more than $5 million into the Akin campaign, which was twice as much as the Akin campaign itself had put in. So he was responsible for Akin’s lead over McCaskill more than anyone.
And now you see that—to the tea party, Rove was sort of the anti-Christ. He was the Republican establishment. The Bush era had been spendthrift Republicans. They were hated by the tea party. Rove faced the challenge of uniting these two branches. He seemed to reach an accommodation with them, and now you have it exploding, thanks to Todd Akin.
AMY GOODMAN: You think Rove is achin’ today?
CRAIG UNGER: Oh, he is hurting. This is his nightmare. This is his nightmare. And he was doing everything he could to pull the plug immediately. He instantly went on the air with the clip you just saw. And those were brutal words. Those are coming not just from a political commentator, that is the party boss pulling the plug, saying, "You’re not getting another dime from us. Get out." And Akin did not get out. So, we’ll have to see how that plays out.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to play part of Congressman Akin’s new TV ad released on Monday to apologize for his comments about what he called, what we just mentioned, quote, "legitimate rape."
REP. TODD AKIN: I’m Todd Akin, and I approve this message. Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault, and I pray for them. The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Craig Unger, your comments on what the congressman said?
CRAIG UNGER: Well, that doesn’t solve anything for the Republicans, and, if anything, it makes it worse. I mean, this is not the conversation they want to have. And it’s not just the science-fiction medical argument that he’s made. It’s he’s turning the conversation. Should the national conversation be that America’s big problem is we want to force rape victims to bear the child of the rapist? I mean, that is not the conversation they want.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, we’re not just talking about Akin in Missouri, right? Akin and Paul Ryan co-sponsored the Sanctity of Life bill, which many call the personhood bill, giving a zygote personhood. And you just have, yesterday, in Tampa, where the convention will be, the platform hammered out, presided over by Virginia Governor McDonnell, who’s known as the vaginal ultrasound guy. Many feel—he was so ridiculed—he could have been the vice-presidential candidate, but for that. The plank being hammered out, and once again they have said that, in the case of—even in the case of rape or incest, abortion is not allowed.
CRAIG UNGER: Right, and this is a party that doesn’t want the government intruding into your personal life. That’s right. No, this is a nightmare for the Republicans and for Rove.
AMY GOODMAN: How much power does Rove have over the Republican platform, over the Republican Party?
CRAIG UNGER: Well, he—the power he’s had has been money. I mean, he has the purse strings. And in creating these super PACs and reaching accommodation with the funders of the tea party—Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and so forth—he’s had enormous amount of power. What is puzzling here is you can’t account for any one individual, like Todd Akin, and he seems to not want to get out, and he’s keeping the conversation alive. And Rove wants to stop it immediately. And it’s at a crisis point for the Republicans, because it’s coming just before they go into their convention.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to an interview that FlashReport’s Jon Fleischman did with Karl Rove. In this clip, Rove defends his fundraising tactics, saying that they are comparable to those of liberals.
KARL ROVE: Realized there were a lot of liberal groups, like the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, MoveOn and AARP, which were 501(c)(4)s and were raising money and spending it either on issue advocacy or express advocacy and never, you know, revealing the donors. So if it was good for them and it worked, we ought to have one on our side.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Karl Rove speaking in 2010 to Jon Fleischman. Craig Unger, your comments?
CRAIG UNGER: Well, there’s—the only grain of truth there is there have been groups and people like George Soros who have funded Democratic groups in the past. But, in general, it’s really nonsense. And what’s worth understanding is that Rove’s tactic—and this goes back to the ’80s—is that he has created shadow political action committees that respond—that are responsible to him, so that he has power outside the Republican Party. And right now, the kind of power he has is—amounts to really roughly a billion dollars in super PAC money, which is extraordinary. I mean, if you go to the 2008 campaign, to make it comparable, John McCain spent around $375 million on his campaign, so Rove has three times that under his control.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about that empire, how he came to me more powerful than the Republican National Committee, perhaps the Republican Party itself, when we come back from break. Interestingly, on the final comment on Akin, who will run against Claire McCaskill, at least at this point, in Missouri for the Senate seat, he sent out a tweet saying, "Donations are pouring in. Thank you for standing up against the liberal elite." Do you think that there was a reference to two elites here? He’s talking about the Democrats and all of that, but also referring to Rove and Romney as the liberal elites?
CRAIG UNGER: Absolutely. There’s enormous resentment against Rove within the tea party. And if you look at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today, the lead editorial is that we can’t allow Karl Rove—and it specifically names Karl Rove—to change, to undo the will of Missouri voters. And so, in part, you see Akin staying in as a backlash against Karl Rove. This is the tea party saying, "We’re not going to do anything. We’re completely uncompromising."
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Craig Unger for this hour. His new book is called Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power. How did Karl Rove go from being almost indicted to the most powerful Republican in the United States today? We’ll continue to follow his life. Stay with us.
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